Rolling off the ferry, a group of bikes pursued by cars, the seven year old girl pumped the pedals of her one-speed to keep up. For once, she was in the front! Pink tassels flew in the wind of her passage, slapping her hands in joy. An unfamiliar port quickly climbed into the forested hills, and she was passed by two, three, all the bicyclists in their brightly colored spandex. Breathing hard, she slowed as the shoulder widened, to look behind her. Cars roared past her, racing to the stoplight at the top of the hill. Diesel fumes made her cough, and she stopped to turn fully.
No one was behind her. Her brother and two older cousins who had kept ahead of her, taunting and ignoring her throughout the trip, were not there. The rest of the bicycles had vanished over the hill, and none of her family’s well-used jeans had pedaled past her.
A familiar rumble announced the disembarking of her grandparent’s camper, and they waved at her as the truck passed by. Only two bikes were strapped to the back. As they vanished over the hill, the ferry began to load its next set of passengers.
Turning around, she started riding through the lines of parked cars, looking for her folks. She caught a glimpse of someone who might have been her uncle, but lost him in the maze of lots, spread across the hillside in tiers.
Heading back to the road to more properly Stay Put, she realized she was Lost. Lost in a foreign port as the light was fading, she knew that they had lost track of her in the chaos of the group. Her grandparents figured she was with her parents and her parents with her grandparents, so it would take time for them to miss her.
A white van pulled out from a distant lot – her folks’ van? Despite her yells, it disappeared over the hill. They were going to have pizza.
It was time. She got off her bike and started to walk back to the ferry police, to turn herself in. She practiced her lines, “I’m lost. I’m seven, and my parents forgot me.”
Tears blurred her vision. How would she find them? Would the police take her home? Did they leave her on purpose, to show her that she should not stray from the group?
The past week had been filled with freedom and frustration. Biking the backroads of the islands, she’d kept up with the vanguard of boys, three to nine years her senior. Falling exhausted into her sleeping bag each night, for the first time she’d slept through the thunderous snores of her father, uncles, and grandfather. The boys explored the campgrounds with wild abandon, striving to lose her in the forest. Returning alone to camp, their grandmother chastised the girl for not helping her mother with cooking and setting up camp. Reaching the top of a hill meant M&M’s from her mother, and a swoop down the other side with her laughing father. They explored lighthouses and pioneer church graveyards and homemade playgrounds. With 11 bikes and a camper, they held picnics in flowered meadows, bushwhacked to secluded beaches, and told stories around the campfire.
Sunburned, bug-bit, and smelling of woodsmoke and childsweat, she was tired, and looking forward to a meal that did not have to be rehydrated. But they had forgotten her.